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Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact's oddest fact-checks of 2012

If you want fact-checks on the weighty, wonky issues of the day, you turn to PolitiFact.

But the Truth-O-Meter also has a sense of humor, so we occasionally do light-hearted or downright odd fact-checks.

Here is a look at some of the more unusual fact-checks we did in 2012.

• • •

Was Bane, the villain in the most recent Batman movie, a sneaky attempt to smear Mitt Romney?

Uh, no. It turns out that the villainous Bane first appeared in Batman comic books in 1993, long before Romney entered presidential politics. Even the character's creator — who identifies as a conservative — called a suggested link "ridiculous." We rated this statement Pants on Fire!

Are there more shark attacks in Florida than cases of voter fraud?

Oh, Florida. In March, the state's controversial new election law was the subject of national barbs, including on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the Report that Florida officials claimed they needed to pass the law to prevent voter fraud, but those cases were actually pretty rare — more rare than shark attacks. We looked at fraud cases and shark attacks 2008-2011, and with a couple of caveats, he was right: Mostly True.

Did the Washington, D.C., City Council ban rat extermination?

In January, news stories mentioned extra rats around Occupy D.C. camps a few blocks from the White House. Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general in neighboring Virginia, told a conservative website that D.C. law "doesn't allow them to kill the dang rats. They have to capture them, and capture them in families." Our colleagues at PolitiFact Virginia scurried for the evidence, and found a 2010 law prohibiting lethal trapping specifically exempted the common type of rat that lives in our nation's capital. (That would be the Norway rat, you comedians!) Pants on Fire.

Is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons … a "congress"?

Our fact-checking colleagues in Rhode Island have learned from experience to be skeptical of anything they see in the contagion of emails they receive. But they wondered, since they're always skeptical of their own skepticism, whether this little tidbit from a chain email might be true. Sadly for comedy and the English language, the correct term is a "troop." Pants on Fire.

Can the word "vagina" get a lawmaker banned from the Michigan House?

Yes, this did happen, and the uproar included this post passed around Facebook: "Vagina. Because apparently, saying that word in the Michigan State House of Representatives can get you a two-day ban from speaking on the floor." Republicans who silenced Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown, who used the word in debate about abortion rights, say the reason wasn't the word itself, but that she violated decorum and invoked an offensive parallel to rape. She was banned from speaking, though for one day, not two. We rated the Facebook claim Mostly True.

Did some Oregon schools spend $500,000 to de­­clare the peanut butter and jelly sandwich racist?

The Oregon PB&J kerfuffle started with a Portland Tribune story about diversity training that quoted a K-8 principal, Verenice Gutierrez. Using the peanut butter sandwich as an example in a classroom lesson, she said, might not resonate with Somali or Hispanic students. "Another way would be to say: 'Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?' Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita." Shortly, this headline turned up on "Portland Schools spend $500K to deem PB&J sandwiches racist." Our colleagues at PolitiFact Oregon don't usually weigh in on lunch, but who could resist? They found the statement inaccurate and silly. Or, more concisely put: Pants on Fire.

Does the health care law require you to insert microchips in your body?

From the claims that just won't die department: We wrote this one in 2009 but continued to get many inquiries about it in 2012. The inquiries were sincere and serious, from people who got a chain email that an "implantable radio frequency transponder system" would be implanted under the health care law to "collect data in medical patients," including "claims data" and "electronic health records." A chip does exist that allows patients to mark themselves with a medical ID number. But it doesn't store records, isn't required by anyone, and has nothing to do with the health care law. So, for the record, no. A big Pants on Fire no!

PolitiFact's oddest fact-checks of 2012 12/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 8:03pm]
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